I want an outdoor museum.
Botanical gardens are delightful; sculptures and monuments are divine; heritage sites are my passion; but I want a bonafide outdoor museum.
Here in Vancouver, we’ve been treated to an exceptionally mild and sunny winter (the pain of a snowboarding season cut short has been alleviated by cycling without a jacket in February). As much as I adore working in museums, I’ve recently found myself staring wistfully out the window at people basking in the weekend sunshine as I sit in a darkened room for artifact conservation, hands sweltering in cotton gloves. Spending yet another sunny weekend working indoors, I began to wonder how I could convince anyone to spend a such a perfect day inside a museum, gallery, or heritage home when even I was feeling a tad regretful about my surroundings.
And so I found myself asking – in warm climates or summer months, why not have an outdoor museum? It could be a weekend community organized pop-up, or a full-fledged permanent, grant-funded, professionally-curated extravaganza. I want either. I want both. I want something in between.
Allow me to define my terms – by outdoor museum, I don’t necessarily mean an “open-air museum” in the traditional sense, although these are equally wonderful places (impressive historic sites such as Qutb Minar, Fort York, and Stonehenge come to mind). Nor am I thinking of such wonders as The Getty Center, with its massive, gleaming complex of separate indoor galleries connected by walkways, marble plazas, and spectacular gardens. I’m having visions of elegant wide avenues and mysterious winding paths…kinetic sculptures, compelling info boards, permanent, touchable displays…audio guides…interpreters…soundscapes…am I dreaming too big?
Outdoor museums clearly have some limitations – exhibits would have to be weatherproof, and few artifacts would be suitable for display in such an environment. Displays would be much more prone to vandalism and damage, and controlling access and collecting revenue would be challenging if not impossible. Moreover, they would have the opposite problem of indoor museums – on rainy or cold days, visitorship would suffer.
On the other hand, in the right season, location, and climate, outdoor museums could have significant advantages. An ongoing puzzle for many museums is how best to communicate to people outside about all the amazing things they can experience inside. This is less true for historic sites, but can be a significant obstacle for museums within modern structures – especially if those buildings are multipurpose, like New Westminster’s slick new Anvil Centre. Outdoor museums, with their displays visible in broad daylight, are able to communicate what the visitor will experience more effectively than any “Open” sign or sandwich board. Fully outdoor museums may also attract new audiences who might feel more comfortable with a less formal, outdoor museum experience.
And of course, they’d be delightful places to spend a balmy Sunday afternoon (for work or pleasure), which was the whole inspiration behind this post in the first place.
Dear reader, do you have any recommendations for a truly outdoor museum? I would love to hear them!